Best of the Lower East Side

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The Lower East Side restaurant landscape is as diverse and textured as the neighborhood itself. Where else can you devour the best lox known to humankind at Russ & Daughters, slurp down a bowl of hand-pulled noodle soup in Chinatown, enjoy a cubano at at old-school Latin diner, savor a creme brulee doughnut at the Doughnut Plant and sample the wizardry of wd~50’s groundbreaking chef Wylie Dufresne, all within a few blocks’ walk?

There are something like 150 restaurants just south of Houston Street on the LES. In many cases, establishments open and close so quickly, it’s humanly impossible to keep up with the changes. So after four years covering the comings and goings, we decided to take a step back and with your help, to survey the food scene in a more tangible way. The results are contained in this special feature–The Lo-Down’s inaugural “Best of the Lower East Side” food awards.

For this project, we conducted an online readers’ survey over a two-week period, seeking your opinions on the top restaurants and food purveyors across a variety of categories. For the purposes of the survey, we defined the Lower East Side as the area below East Houston Street and east of Bowery.

There are, of course, all kinds of “best of” lists in New York. The Lower East Side is showered with attention from the citywide food media. But many times, these lists are built for visitors making an occasional excursion to the neighborhood, rather than for people who actually live here. The Lo-Down’s Best of the LES is not only specifically tailored for locals, but it was created by locals. After tabulating your answers, we added some of our own impressions, based on personal dining experiences during the past several years and in a (gut-busting) flurry of restaurant visits in recent weeks.

In the process, we learned a lot. For one thing, it became clear that some of the places that generate the most media buzz are not necessarily local “go-to” spots. Mission Chinese, Danny Bowien’s hot spot until it closed due to health department issues last month, is a food-blog obsession. While some readers nominated it for Best Chinese restaurant, it was not a runaway favorite, probably explainable by the fact that not many locals are willing to wait two hours for a table.

A lot of restaurants on the Lower East Side obviously cater to the hordes of late-night revelers who descend on the bars and clubs and then go in search of “drunk food.” It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that these spots tended to rank low in our survey, although there were some exceptions, which you’ll see below. Our readers gravitate to places that offer quality food, good value and attentive customer service.

At the same time, lots of locals (us included) have an appreciation for innovation and new restaurant concepts. This neighborhood is a testing ground, a place where bright, young chefs can experiment and learn. It keeps the food scene vibrant and interesting for all of us.

Happy eating in what remains of 2013 and throughout the next year.

Best Restaurant: Cafe Katja (Readers’ Choice)
Best New Restaurant: Black Tree (Readers’ Choice)
Best New Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Miller’s Near & Far
Best Customer Service: (TLD Suggests) Forgtmenot
Best Old School Restaurant: Katz’s Deli (Readers’ Choice)
Best Old School Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) El Castillo de Jagua
Best Splurge Restaurant: wd-50 (Readers’ Choice)
Best Splurge Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Yopparai
Best Breakfast: (TLD Suggests) Dimes
Best Coffee: Roasting Plant (Readers’ Choice)
Best Hamburger: Mikey’s Burger
Best Pizza: Nonna’s LES Pizzeria (Readers’ Choice)
Best Pizza: (TLD Suggests) Via Tribunali
Best Cheap Eats: Various Dumpling Shops (Readers’ Choice)
Best Italian Restaurant: Sauce (Readers’ Choice)
Best Italian Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Sorella and Gaia
Best Chinese Restaurant: Congee Village (Readers’ Choice)
Best Chinese Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Yunnan Kitchen
Best Mexican Restaurant: (Readers’ Choice) Barrio Chino
Best Sandwich: Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop (Readers’ Choice)
Best Late Night Restaurant: The Meatball Shop (Readers’ Choice)
Best Late Night Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Taquitoria
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Tiengarden (Readers’ Choice)
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: (TLD Suggests) Family Recipe
Best Kids’ Restaurant: Cafe Petisco (Readers Choice)
Best Sweet Temptation: Sugar Sweet Sunshine